Fantasy elements under the microscope

It looks as though I may be leading a fantasy-writing workshop later this year, and I’d like to be helpful. I’m planning to discuss world-building, paranormal/unusual characters, and integrating the fantastic with the ordinary and universal, but I don’t want to miss a good topic for discussion or practice. So I wanted to ask those of you who are…

Writers: What aspect of craft, specific to fantasy, do you struggle with most or wish you knew more about?

Readers: What aspects do you most often find lacking in the the fantasy books you read?

All suggestions or ideas welcome; thanks!

— Joni, who lives for plausibility but recognizes that not everyone cares about that

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7 responses to “Fantasy elements under the microscope

  1. Natalie Aguirre

    Oh, I wish I could go. I struggle as a writer with weaving in back story, not having too much set up when introducing a new world, and weaving character development into what is usually a really plot driven story. I hope this helps.

    • Nick

      Ditto the weaving in character development without ruining/slowing the pacing, although I suppose that’s a struggle in any genre.

  2. I struggle with setting. I always ignore it, and cannot seem to write it well!

  3. Whitney Ebert

    Setting is hard for me, too! I don’t have a problem writing the characters, or even coming up with all the unique little things about my world. I definitely struggle with describing a setting…I guess I don’t go adventuring enough! I also have to make myself sit and think about how a certain fantasy element “works” (like a magical portal, for a random example). What are all the little rules that govern this world I’ve created?

    As a reader…as much as I love the adventure and action, give me a little more romance. Us girls (and some guys, like my husband) like that stuff thrown in! I happen to dislike books that are all romance or all fast paced adventure…a good author strikes a balance.

  4. Where the fantasy isn’t grounded in some familiar reality – high fantasy & dystopian for example. How do you integrate world building with character and plot development so as not to leave the reader bewildered? It’s especially a problem when the plot has a lot to do with the world with which we’re not yet familiar. So how do you get the reader hooked?

  5. Thanks so much for the input, gang! This gives me a great idea for some discussion and an exercise. :)

  6. I know the thing that bothers me the most in fantasy is magic systems that are not properly established and poorly-developed worlds.

    There seems to be two types of magic systems – ones that are explained and you know the rules (both wielder and reader), and ones that are not explained. That later is the kind where the wielder must learn and control the magic before they are consumed or pushed to a place out of control. The first kind is where the wielder knows the rules, and the interest comes in how they use it to their advantage. It acts much more like a technology than a mysterious, unknowable force. I have to admit, for the most part, I find the first type to be more interesting. Having laws gives limitations, and that makes for much more interesting actions.

    And with a lack of worldbuilding, I just want to bang my head into the wall. When things like cultural traditions, language barriers, travel, technology and economics aren’t addressed, I think they are cheating themselves of a much richer experience. Balance is the key, of course, but when integral elements to a culture aren’t acknowledged at all, I feel like there could be so much more there that is absent. Diana Wynne’s Jones The Tough Guide to Fantasyland is an absolutely hilarious look at the many cliches of fantasy worlds we build.

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